They were in a circle around her, hooting and laughing as they slowly undressed her. She stood as still as a wooden carving as they took turns jumping out of the circle to pull a button loose. Her jacket lay in the dust a few feet from her, and only one button still held her blouse in place. Before he could stop them, one jumped forward, flipped the last button free and tore the blouse off.
In Spanish William roared at them as he leaped from a still-running horse. "Fools! Have you no respect?"
"It is as we always do," one exclaimed in surprise.
"Not to ladies." He leaned down and retrieved the woman's blouse. He gave it a violent snap to shake the dust from it before he held it out to her, but he did not forget the part he played no matter how angry he was. He switched to English with a heavy accent. "My pardon this has happened."
Her hand did not move to accept the blouse. Even though he stood directly in front of her, her gray, blazing eyes, in a face that challenged the angels in beauty, did not look at him. Estimating her age to be no more than eighteen at first glance, he realized she was at least a few years older as he moved, putting himself in line with her gaze. She very deliberately shifted her eyes away.
"You are right," he told her quietly. "I am not fit to look upon." He raised her arm, draped the blouse over it, and with a short bow added, "We go now."
As he turned, words from her, cold and hard, stopped him with a jerk. "I will have my locket back," she said, her contempt cutting like a sword.
"You have stolen from her?" he demanded of his men.
Never had any of them seen El Primero angry. The guilty man stepped forward, digging into his pocket. He kept his eyes to the ground, afraid to face the cold fury, and held the locket out with a trembling hand. "The chain is broken."
William turned the locket in his hand, gold, very old, and beautifully crafted with a filigree design covering the front. He could understand why the man had taken it and why she wanted it back.
"Tie it," she ordered as William held it out to her.He stepped behind her and draped the chain over her head, a head that barely reached his shoulder with hair the color of spun gold, to see the man had not been gentle in taking it. There was a welt on her neck where the chain had been ripped off and below it, barely showing from beneath the edge of her chemise, was a mark he could not believe, distracting him from tying the chain. That Manual had scratched her breaking the chain, yes, but to strike her? The mark was there, yet as he touched it gently to verify what his eyes saw, he realized the bruising was older and fading, the scab nearly healed.